Chevy prepping for sustained success

Winnipeg offence ready for regular season


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Drafting, developing...and shrewd dealing under a deadline.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/09/2019 (1277 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Drafting, developing…and shrewd dealing under a deadline.

By the skin of his teeth, Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff checked off every item from his very busy summer to-do list, even if it took a bit longer than anyone hoped and provided plenty of training camp distractions.

From cornerstone defenceman Josh Morrissey’s long-term extension to locking up restricted free agent wingers Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor, Cheveldayoff is likely sleeping a bit easier these days knowing his team can go into regular-season battle with all of its offensive weapons, at least up front, back in the fold.

And he should. Other than veteran Dustin Byfuglien contemplating whether he wants to keep playing, the band is otherwise back together.

But here’s the biggest thing: It’s not that Cheveldayoff ultimately got the work done, which was eventually going to happen. It’s that he did them without hampering both the immediate and long-term future of the franchise, setting the Jets up for sustained success.

And that really has become Cheveldayoff’s modus operandi. Regardless of what you think of his overall body of work — and there’s no question he’s made some mistakes — Cheveldayoff and his staff have done an impressive job of retaining much of his homegrown, drafted and developed core.

And, most importantly, avoiding the kind of killer errors which can haunt franchises for years.

Look no further than one of his first big deals. Mark Scheifele may be the team’s No. 1 centre. But would you believe he’s going to be only the seventh-highest paid player on the team as of next year? That’s assuming Byfuglien and his contract are still around, otherwise he’d move up to sixth,

That eight-year, US$49-million extension signed in 2016 is nothing short of highway robbery from Winnipeg’s perspective, one of the best value contracts in the NHL for a bona fide star and point-a-game player such as Scheifele.

Did Cheveldayoff get a bit lucky? Perhaps. Scheifele could have opted for a short-term bridge deal — and no doubt now wishes he went that route — which would have paved the way for a much bigger payday. But like many other young players since, Scheifele and his agent clearly bought what the GM was selling in terms of making Winnipeg his long-term hockey home.

We know it wasn’t our lovely winters that’s had the No. 1 centre rushing to put his name to paper.

Forward Nikolaj Ehlers (seven years, US$42 million in 2017) and goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (six years, US$37 million in 2018) were the next drafted-and-developed players to follow Scheifele’s lead, before Morrissey (eight years, US$50 million) and Connor (seven years, US$50 million) did the same this month.

If you’re scoring at home, that’s five draft picks, five stars and 36 total years of team control to the tune of US$228 million.

Laine (two years, US$13.5 million) joins Adam Lowry (three years, US $8.75 million) and Andrew Copp (two years, US $4.56 million) as other drafted players who went the bridge-deal route, with the potential for much bigger paydays kicked a few years down the road.

In Laine’s case, that’s best for both the player and the team. Winnipeg simply didn’t have the money to go any higher on his annual average value right now without doing some other surgery to the roster. The same goes for Copp this summer, which is why he and the Jets needed an arbitrator to settle their financial differences.

It wasn’t always pretty. But it was definitely necessary.

A quick look at CapFriendly shows the Jets will be approximately US $800,000 from the US $81.5 million salary cap ceiling this season if Byfuglien ultimately decides to keep playing and returns to the team. If he retires, or puts off a decision and remains suspended indefinitely, that money opens up, along with a big hole on the blue-line, of course.

If Laine can be the player he and many others think he can be, there’s a ransom waiting for him following the 2020-21 season. Byfuglien, along with Mathieu Perreault and Dmitry Kulikov, will all be off the books by then, representing about US $16 million in available money. Combine that with the fact the salary cap is expected to take a big jump with Seattle joining the NHL and a new TV deal kicking in, and the Jets should have plenty of wiggle room.

That should provide plenty of motivation for the talented but very streaky Finnish sniper.

For Connor, it always made sense to go long-term. His value may have never been higher than it is right now, with 65 goals in his first two full NHL seasons while skating primarily on the top line with Scheifele and Wheeler. He’s proven to be a consistent producer, although questions will always linger about how much of his success is based on his place in the lineup. But given his track record already and the going rate around the league, it seems like a reasonable gamble.

Give credit where it’s due: The Jets, more than most other NHL franchises, have done an admirable job of building a Stanley Cup contender the old fashioned way, with very little in the way of massive free agent signings or huge trades. All that young talent coming in and up through the system has created a few headaches, of course, as talent eventually needs to get paid once all those entry-level deals expire.

Case in point: Jacob Trouba, a prized pick who turned into a star but ultimately had to be moved. His case is a bit of an outlier, as Trouba had personal reasons for not wanting to remain in Winnipeg, and the Jets would not have been able to afford his big ticket, anyways.

Yes, Cheveldayoff has whiffed on some deals, especially in the free agent market. Kulikov’s signing stands out, and he’s definitely overpaid considering his overall contributions. Cheveldayoff also had to trade Joel Armia last year just to get Montreal to take Steve Mason’s regrettable contract off his hands and free up valuable cap space. (Although, in hindsight, Mason was a worthy risk as a placeholder given Hellebuyck had yet to establish himself as a true No. 1 in net).

The extensions handed out to Perreault and Bryan Little rewarded the veterans for fine work in the past but now seem iffy, at best, perhaps a case of loyalty proving costly. Wheeler’s huge deal may eventually pose a problem, although it may ultimately be well worth it given all that the captain has brought, and continues to bring, to the team.

No GM is flawless, of course. But there have been plenty more hits than misses for Cheveldayoff on the contract front. And his work over the past couple weeks, with all kinds of turmoil surrounding his club and the clock ticking towards the start of an all-important regular-season, may ultimately be his best yet.

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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